Sep 16 2009
Mystics claim that their experience of god (at least their perception of their god) and/or the transcendant/mystical realm is ineffable: you can’t put it in words. A recent Jesus and Mo cartoon humorously depicts characters reading books about the ineffable.
Can you put an experience in words? No, not really. Describing what swimming in the ocean feels like is a poor substitute for the actual thing. It doesn’t come close to relaying the full richness of the experience.
But then again, when is a description of an experience ever equivalent to the experience itself? It doesn’t matter whether the experience in question consists of sniffing flowers, having really good sex, or “feeling a presence of the divine.” Whatever that means.
Most religious terms make no sense to me. Which isn’t to say I haven’t had experiences of meaning/importance that I could attribute to something special. But that attribution is the work of the same brain that attaches words to objects and events.
The inability to capture “moving” experiences with words seems to me a completely different matter than whether or not we can shed light on how an experience is likely generated. Why does eating a great cut of steak make me almost melt in a puddle of pleasure? For X, Y, and Z reasons. Granted, we barely have X reason for why people may experience a divine presence in situation A or B. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons. And likely fully pedestrian reasons at that.